TV Review: Quirke - 'The true star of Quirke is 1950’s Dublin'

TV Review: Quirke - 'The true star of Quirke is 1950’s Dublin'

TV Review

IN what might be dubbed “Celtic Noir” or “Dubh Noir”, Ireland has finally caught up with British and Swedish television in claiming a sleuth who is uniquely ours, in every sense.

Just as Wallander has come to exemplify Swedish Noir and Inspector Morse embodied the very best of British crime drama, Benjamin Black’s (the pen name of Wexford- born prose stylist John Banville) Quirke is a character creation unique to the landscape in which he is portrayed; a once orphaned anti- hero who carries the burden of what we now recognize as the Catholic Church’s highly questionable legacy in Ireland.

Although played on- screen by Drimnagh-native Gabriel Byrne, the true star of Quirke is 1950’s Dublin. The gothic undertones of the Edwardian city are beautifully captured by lighting and cinematography that feature the character of the city that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

From each smoke- stained saloon wall to the city’s dimly- lit, dark- grey cobblestones, 1950’s Dublin is evoked in a way that is compelling, aesthetically precise and true to Banville’s depiction of the city as in his Benjamin Black novels.

Playing a lead role that he was born to play, Byrne is at his smoldering, Bogart- best as Quirke, a pathologist whose half- brother, Malachy (Nick Dunning), a doctor in Dublin, he suspects of tampering with the death certificate of Christine Falls, which claims that she died of pulmonary embolism.

When the cadaver of Christine Falls goes missing from Quirke’s morgue overnight, Quirke eventually performs a post mortem and discovers that she died in child birth, setting off a chain of events which eventually lead him to an orphanage in Boston, run by a shady Catholic order.

What is achieved best in what is a more than faithful adaptation of Banville’s novel is the depiction of the church and its role in what transpires to be a cover- up, though it does so without resulting to Dan Brown- esque conspiracy theories. In fact, what makes Quirke chilling is how faithful the language and the era are portrayed: every long, black coat, every rimmed hat a nod to the era that it portrays.

Quirke doesn’t show its hand immediately, though, and impatient viewers may get restless in what is a multi- dimensional, slow- burning thriller.

That the central focus of Quirke is as much on characterization as it is on plot may frustrate viewers who demand that a plot be even and progressive, though viewers will be rewarded with what are top- notch performances from Gabriel Byrne, Nik Dunning and Michael Gambon in a thriller that is as much about the end of an era in Dublin life- the 60’s is only over the hill, after all- as it is a whodunit.